BY Jon Ullman (@gogoPatienceCnP)
I preface this by telling you I am a big fan of Hex Hector’s. I discovered him, along with most people who know his work from back in the day, in the mid-90’s. Unbreak My Heart was the first remix I heard of his, and I would go to hear him spin live back then at Club USA in Times Square. Maybe not in that order, and maybe not even at USA, Hex will correct me if I’m wrong. You see, I’ve also known Hex for over a decade. When I first moved to New York, Hex spun at a birthday party for this girl Elizabeth that I was invited to. I mention this because that’s just the kind of guy he is, to spin for a friend’s birthday in some empty and cavernous downtown loft for 200 people. He was famous by then, but he hadn’t yet won his Grammy. That came in 2001 when he won Remixer of the Year. I had met Hex casually around that time, introduced by our now mutual friend, Elizabeth. And since then no matter where he was playing, he always took the time to say hello when I dropped in the booth. He’s that kind of a guy.
Three years ago I was looking for a composer for Trouble In The Heights when I reconnected with Hex at a Danny Krivit boat party. That’s Hex, he loves to go out and hear great music as much as he loves to play it in a club. He’s just as happy being in the crowd as he is playing for the crowd, or even working alone in a studio. And for Hex, working on the film was another labor of love. Here was a man who has worked with superstars and traveled the globe for his craft, yet working within the means of our limited indie film budget. And in that time I also got to know him better. Today I consider him a friend.
I tell you all this to further illustrate how truly special last Saturday night really was. Way back in the late ‘80’s, inspired by their neighborhood friend Jungle Jorge, Hex and his friend from the block, Julio Ton Rodriguez, would throw up these Riverside Jams for the neighborhood. These were different times, and Washington Heights was a much different place, when it was a tough and scary place to be. The Riverside Jams transcended that, nothing but friends getting together for the music. It was all about the music. And lucky for us it still is.
We came into the party on the backside, through the park from 181st. Getting closer, first a little bass, then a thump and a beat. Walking over the train overpass and up the walkway towards the tunnel was a bit like Capt.Willard stopping off for provisions on his way upriver and into the heart of darkness. Pitch black, you could fully hear the music by now, and occasionally someone would pass by or pop out of the bushes. Or vice versa. Anything could be happening up there.
Then turn a corner and there we were, at the bottom of the rabbit hole. Hex explains that there’s a sound issue they were working out, and when they do they’ll be going on. Sound issues? The opening dj’s sounded great. In fact, for a tunnel in the middle of a park run off a single generator I thought it sounded pretty fantastic. But then again I’m no expert. A light rack was suspended from the ceiling, two Haring-inspired murals painted on each side of the tunnel, a ladder and caution tape served as the dj booth. Hex was excited, and you could tell, you could just tell…
I’ve read some accounts of about 700 people. Sounds right to me, but again I’m no expert. Always print the legend. Saw a lot of friends, people I’ve seen out and about in the ‘hood, and I met some who came up from other points in the city. Word of mouth spreads quicker than it did 25 years ago. And they all came for one reason only, the music. No one had any race, religion, sexual preference, gender, age, political beliefs or hairstyle. We were all one. There was not one single person in attendance that did not feel and exude the love and joy that permeated the tunnel. And the two people who felt it the most were our hosts, Hex and Julio, two kids from down the street. From the time they went on they fed off the energy of the tunnel from one end to the other.
The vibe all night was incredible. But don’t get me wrong, this was not some kind of party where they could’ve played anything and the crowd was just happy to be there. No, the music was the star of the night, that was why we were there. We knew what to anticipate coming in, and not only did Hex and Julio not disappoint, they probably blew many of our expectations away. Highlights were too many to list, much less remember all of them. A few that stand out were Marshall Jefferson, the Let No Man Put Asunder sing along, writing this I can’t get Firecracker out of my head, and this might mean nothing to you but Slang Teacher into Once In A Lifetime made me absolutely bonkers.
And before I forget, a quick shout out to all the fine purveyors of Nutcrackers and Nemos, it wouldn’t be a proper Uptown house party in the park without you guys. Then, sadly, at 3am it was over, shut down. I was told on the way out that the police had first shown up three hours ago, but it was such a peaceful and joyful gathering that they hated to do it. But of course they had to. Hex wrote online about how complimentary they were as they were issuing him and Julio a summons and fine. It was that kind of a night. You want attitude, egos and fights breaking out? Go somewhere else, there’s plenty of venues like that to choose from. We were having none of that. Just 700 people coming together on a perfect late-summer night for the love of it all. No cover charge, no overpriced drinks (no bathrooms!). I’ve read and heard and used myself many superlatives to describe the night: epic, amazing, legendary, fabulous, fantastic, spiritual and magical, and they’re all true. Don’t underestimate the hype, you had to be there. And if you were there, and you think back to this night every once in a while, picture Hex and Julio, grinning ear to ear as they’re being handed their fine. That’s some real Uptown love right there.
Jonathan Ullman is a filmmaker living and working in Washington Heights. His films include Trouble In The Heights and the upcoming documentary Nutcracker Inc. He is also working on a film about Larry Levan and the Paradise Garage.
Pictures below comes to us courtesy of James R Michelem.